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Calibrating your Inner GPS

By Greg McMillan, M.S.
As featured in the March 2006 issue of Running Times Magazine

Learning to Run by Feel

When I started running way back in the 20th century, I wanted longer legs. Long, lean legs for a flowing stride that would simply eat up the ground. As a runner in the 21st century, I find that I need longer arms. I’m up to my elbows in watches, GPS units, heart-rate monitors, and iPods. And I’m not alone. Some runners look like they are straight out of a science fiction movie—water bottles in holsters circling the hips, gadgets running up and down the arms relaying detailed information on location, position, elevation, temperature, speed, heart rate, and distance from the target. A pre-dawn encounter with a 21st-century runner in full gear can be quite scary!

There is nothing wrong with our 21st-century technology. Over the last few decades, remarkable advances such as heart-rate and speed/distance monitors have enhanced our ability to better prescribe and monitor training for a variety of runners. Coaching is now so much easier, and new runners can avoid the problems runners in the 20th century faced. Any training can now be adjusted to any runner. 

The problem is that we are at risk of becoming too dependent on the technology—so dependent that we forget the art of learning our bodies. And, learning our bodies is what this sport is about. After all, we can’t predict the conditions for race day, so we need some internal gauge to properly adjust our pace. How will you know how to adjust your pace if your marathon day turns out to be hot and muggy? What if it is windy? How can you adjust if you’ve only relied on external devices to guide your training? Too often, we’re slaves to the tools instead of using the tools to learn ourselves. We need to calibrate our inner GPS.

Inner GPS Training

I’ve worked with some of the world’s best coaches and have successfully coached a full spectrum of runners—beginners, high school, college, masters, and even elites. I attribute part of this success to what I call “inner GPS training.” The crux of inner GPS training is that it reconnects your body and your mind. You use workouts that help you better judge race pace internally, allowing you to adapt to a myriad of external factors (heat, cold, wind, altitude, terrain, tactics) that can affect performance. And the best part about inner GPS training is that it’s fun, reduces performance pressure, and I suspect that it even helps prevent injury, since you’re never over-extending yourself. Instead, you’re working within a smart, yet challenging, training zone.

In inner GPS training, several key workouts each week are done by effort. Effort comes first. Then, you correlate different effort levels with different paces, heart rates, etc. Done correctly (it only takes 4–8 weeks) inner GPS workouts provide insight into your body and mind. Once the connection between your internal effort level and your running performance is made, and you’ve “dialed into” your effort, you’ll never have a bad workout or race. You’ll be able to adjust your effort to fit the conditions, terrain, or how you feel on the day. 

Below you will find a link to my Six-Week Inner GPS Training Program. As you head into the spring, these workouts are a great way to build the initial fitness you’ll need for your race-specific training later in the season. You also begin to correlate your effort levels with various paces and heart rates so you have a better understanding of what paces, heart rates, and effort levels work specifically for you. You’ll exit this program more fit and more confident in your training.

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© 1999-2014 Greg McMillan

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